The naked truth: how radical transparency is changing business

08 May 2017 -

The naked truth: how radical transparency is changing business FinancialResults

Emails that are accessible to all team members. Open performance metrics. Radical transparency can be unsettling at first, but it’s got the power to change the way your business operates

Guest blogger Peter Linas  

Radical transparency is the idea that a business should make all information about anything that happens within its walls (excluding sensitive medical and financial data) readily available to anyone at all times.

Private research software firm Qualtrics, payments start-up Stripe, and my own company Bullhorn, are all examples of successful organisations that are applying radical transparency in practice. As an idea, it’s undoubtedly unsettling for most employees. However, this apprehension is misguided for, by facilitating a more creative and collaborative working culture, radical transparency can support companies in their business objectives.

The same can be said of a similar and rising concept, ‘radical candour’, which proposes that business leaders should be as honest and open with their team members as possible, as a way of directly challenging them to improve their performance. In several ways, radical new approaches to traditional corporate culture are proving good for business.

Read more:Do your staff trust you?

Show us your inbox

An ‘open email’ initiative is one example of radical transparency in daily practice. Open email means that that the entire team has access to all communications between employees – and all their interactions with clients and external stakeholders.

This can be deployed in two main ways. Emails can be labelled, sorted into lists, filtered and archived – and employees subscribe to the lists that are relevant to them to avoid being overwhelmed. Alternatively, inboxes can be integrated with an organisation’s shared CRM system to track and record all email activity. Employees can then search the CRM for specific communications that are sent internally between colleagues, or to external stakeholders.

So, why is open email a step forward for businesses?

Well, consider this: when emails are locked into individual employee accounts and one salesperson takes sick leave or goes on holiday, any new business queries or customer complaints they receive will sit unseen in their inbox until the salesperson returns. By the time the emails are dealt with, the business opportunity or dissatisfied customer will very likely have moved on to a more responsive competitor. With open email, no information is jealously guarded, no opportunities are double-pitched, and customer issues aren’t left hanging.

Radical transparency can also boost productivity, simply by improving the way information is communicated and shared. Here’s another case in point: if multiple departments are working on an important strategy document or report, a shared system like Slack, Google Drive, or a CRM makes sure that the latest version is easily identifiable and accessible at any time. All edits, comments, and additions are clearly marked and authored so that everyone – from marketing to sales to finance – can contribute effectively and stay in the loop without having to chase various people or versions.

Open performance metrics

A culture of radical transparency can also inspire healthy competition among teams, such as sales and marketing, who are otherwise disposed to competition. All employees have complete knowledge of the company’s core business objectives and can also see how their colleagues are performing, their individual targets and performance metrics on a minute-to-minute basis.

This is commonly deployed by companies like Google, Microsoft, and Deloitte, in the form of gamification, wherein the structures and design methodologies of games are applied to non-game frameworks. Gamification can be made as simple as creating a leaderboard for the number of sales made per month, or as sophisticated as designing a fantasy-football style system to promote both competition and collaboration. The exact shape gamification takes depends heavily on the key performance metrics an organisation is seeking to drive. Far from demotivating teams, this type of management actually motivates teams to keep up with the highest standard.

Read more: Performance management after the annual appraisal

To prevent staff from becoming unsettled or feeling that ‘Big Brother is Watching You’, it’s important for senior members within the business to buy in to radical transparency. Making a success of it necessitates strong business leaders who are not afraid to open their emails and share information with the rest of the company. There can’t be one approach for management and one for their employees – radical transparency only works if everyone is playing by the same rules.

Peter Linas is international managing director at Bullhorn

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